When my first book was published, I finally felt free to call myself a writer. By then, I had been writing professionally for about five years. I’d written hundreds of soap opera scripts, dozens of articles and stories for Scholastic Magazines, and innumerable teaching guides.
But was I really a writer? For some reason, I always felt shy about saying so. “I write for the soaps,” I might say. Or, “I work at Scholastic.” To me in those days, a writer was someone like Shakespeare or Dostoevsky, or Hemingway or even Erle Stanley Gardner.
My first book, Running for Health and Beauty, was the first mass-market book on running for women. I wrote it after having started running in my late twenties. But just as with my writing career, I felt very strange about calling myself a runner. I was slow, and I didn’t like to race. I usually said, “I’m just a jogger.” As for my book, my editor chose the title.
One day I was jogging in Central Park with a friend, and told him I felt funny about the title of the book. He asked why, and I said, “Well, I’m not a real runner.” He said, “We’re running, aren’t we?” I said yes. He said, “Then you’re a runner.”
I know now that the same thing is true of writing. Just as not all runners can finish marathons, not all writers can support themselves writing. But in my opinion, anyone who writes is a writer.
If you have the courage to face that blank page and fill it with your dreams, your imaginings, or even an honest account of what is going on in your life, you’re a writer. If expressing yourself on paper is the way you make sense of your life, if you tell stories because you can’t NOT tell them, you are a writer. If you read books on writing or even my writing tips, because you hope to become better at writing, then you’re a writer.
Tomorrow: How to deal gracefully with editorial suggestions